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Use secure file deletion software before donating or selling computers

January 1, 2005

in All Articles,Encryption and data

You’re driving your car, and an oncoming vehicle splashes mud on your windshield. The glop of mud looks remarkably like Abe Lincoln. (Lincoln with mud all over his face, of course.) You run the wipers and see you’re out of washer fluid. Mud smears. Honest Abe is almost unrecognizable. You see a little remaining of a top hat, and a bit of his hawk-like nose. A few more wipes and most of the mud is gone, including anything resembling The Great Emancipator.

This is an odd but high-level analogy of file deletion on a computer. When you delete, the file is “smeared”. It’s not truly gone, and someone looking carefully could find and reconstruct the information based on “magnetic smears” left behind.

You want to sell or donate an old computer. How do you make sure your important information is completely gone? Hitting the Delete key isn’t enough to protect important files.

Delete important documents with free “multi-pass file deletion software”, leaving your operating system and other software untouched. The computer will still function as before, except personal files will be gone and unrecoverable. AxCrypt is one of those tools.

Like our image of Abe Lincoln, the mud may still be there, but with enough smearing, resemblance to any past president is gone.

If you want the ultimate in security and have a way to reload your entire computer, then use the freeDBAN disk wiping software. DBAN will securely delete everything from a computer. This means the operating system (Windows, Linux, et cetera) must be reloaded afterward. This is where “system recovery disks” come in handy. Use them to rebuild your computer after a full drive wipe. The final result: You’ll have a like-new PC to donate or sell, and none of your old information can be recovered, even with special recovery tools.

Install DBAN by downloading a floppy or CD-ROM image. Boot your PC to that disk. Press Enter to enter “Interactive Mode”, where you control the method of drive clearing. Or type “autonuke”, press Enter, and DBAN will automatically detect your computer’s disks and begin wiping data. It took 25 minutes to completely erase my test drive of 4GB (my drive speed was 5400 RPM), so you’ll probably have to let the tool run overnight. In terms of drive erasing, this is good: The longer it takes, the better.

Warning: These file deletion programs delete your files Permanently. The capital ‘P’ means we’re not messing around. Make sure you have a good backup of all your files first.

Is the data really, truly gone? Depends on who’s looking for it. In this case, the CIA isn’t breaking down our door. Even if they were, these tools may be enough. But in our non-action-movie everyday life, we’re fine. Secure deletion software wipes more than data: Wipe away your worries. Safely donate or resell your old computers.

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